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Writing from experience?

I was reading some posts recently in a LinkedIn authors’ group, on the subject of writing from experience. I was surprised (though not sure why) at the number of authors who said that they always started from their own experience, writing about situations and characters that they could describe easily from memory.

It got me thinking about the process that I went through when writing King’s Ransom. In outline, the book is about a man who is fluent in several European languages – I only speak English and somewhat limited French – who works as an international sales executive: and I have never worked in sales. He gets made redundant (which has never happened to me) and when he gets a new job he has to travel to a country in what was Soviet East Asia -in the general area of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan etc – while I have never been further east than Budapest, which does actually feature in the novel.

It goes on in much the same vein. He is blackmailed (not happened to me – yet), thrown in prison (ditto), and tortured (nope), and he gets involved with drug smugglers, spies, war-lords and an armed insurrection, all of which are way outside of my knowledge.

There’s more, which I can’t really explain without blowing the plot, but it’s interesting, on reflection, that at least 80 percent of the novel is – as I say in my introduction to the book – the product of my fevered imagination. And I can’t really say how on earth that happened, given that I have spent my entire working life working on largely factual writing.

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